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In the last MA500 digital conference of 2020, two operators and a licensing expert had their say on how to make the most of every area available.
Licensee of the Mill in Stokesley, North Yorkshire Alex Cook outlined how he adapted the pub to create a safe, outdoor space.
He said: “We have some old outbuildings, which sit in the car park. We changed them, emptied them, gave them a lick of paint, tidied them up and turned them into beach hut-style, outdoor drinking pods to create outside drinking space that was Covid-safe to allow people.
“The thinking was a lot of people wouldn’t be able to get away this summer so we put an artificial beach out there.
“We looked at the car park and decided we could probably afford to lose 12 spaces. We put a ‘beer terrace’ out there, nice planting, good branded umbrellas, heated it up and it has created outside space. The pub can now hold 120 to 140 people outside safely, socially distanced, that was the idea behind it.”
However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing as Cook has upset his local authority by installing the outside area.
He said: “We are in dispute with our local council, which is causing us a few issues. We have been told we have breached planning regulations and we wouldn’t get planning if we put it in. I have been down these avenues in other sites as well and won on every occasion.
“They are saying I’ve breached planning regulations, they don’t want to grant me it. Where the Government and everyone is telling us we need to create outside space. There is a real issue here.
“The irony is, the day we received the complaint from our council, my local MP is actually Rishi [Sunak]. He sent me a letter congratulating me on the work we have done.It is certainly slightly contentious at the moment.
“The public love bashing the council so I can get an incredible amount of publicity from local press just by doing it. People are talking about it, calling in to check on the situation. The whole town and everyone around us is backing us, which is brilliant. It kind of brings people together.”
But the operator also advised other licensees to maximise their outside space to bring in as much trade as possible.
Cook added: “Us operators need to be a bit savvy in these times, it’s getting tougher and tougher and the Government are giving us no help now, whatsoever, so use your creative brains.
“You’re all entrepreneurs. Let’s create these spaces, make them slightly different, slightly quirkier than the pub down the road. Have a think about it, put your own twist on it and execute it well.
Poppleston Allen partner Sarah Taylor gave her perspective on how pubs can utilise space in gardens and other external areas, including how to use the fast-track pavement licence application.
She said: “The current regime for Highways, the Highways Act applications has been supplemented by the Business and Planning Act 2020.
“The Government has brought in a new, effectively a fast-track system where you can make an application for a pavement licence that doesn’t carry the current 28-day consultation period.
“That was brought in to assist operators at this time and doesn’t require any planning permission to be acquired before the application is made.
“There are various requirements that do still come with that because it needs to be consulted upon but essentially it is a fast-track application that allows operators to put a plan together of what they would like, they need to specify the days and times they want to put furniture on their outside areas, send that to the local authority and then there’s a five working day consultation period.
“Following that, the local authority has a further five working days to make a decision on application. Essentially, the purpose is to circumvent this 28-day consultation period you have with the Highways Act and to make life easier for operators and enable them to get furniture outside more quickly.”
Taylor said the problems Cook has been having with this local council may be to do with a different application and advised on what best to do.
She added: “It sounds like the issues with the planning permission have potentially come up based on a Highways Act application.
“If you do encounter issues like that, obviously each local authority is different, my advice would always be to speak to the officers in the first instance, just to see what the issue is and where that has come from.
“In some circumstances, it could be local residents objecting and in some circumstances it could be planning that objects but generally, a conversation in the interim is the best way forward to try and resolve any issues.
“It may be once those issues are resolved, you can carry on with the application, some authorities may require you to submit it again but at least you can get to the bottom of the issue.”
The solicitor went on to highlight the details of fast-track applications and how this can benefit operators.
Taylor added: “We have been dealing with a lot of applications. These started over the summer so people could maximise the time during the summer but it’s important to recognise these will be ongoing.
“They can be granted for a period of up to year, not past 30 September 2021, that’s when the Business and Planning Act allows for them to be valid until.
“Local authorities can determine the duration the licences will be in effect for once they are granted and it’s no less than three months but no more than a year.
“During the consultation period, if the council don’t deal with the application, it isn’t the case that you get to the end of the application period and the whole thing is rejected, it is granted for a period of a year if they don’t manage to deal with it during that consultation period. The options are there and it’s important to use them.
“Giving the new world we are in, it’s also important to recognise winter may also be a time to utilise that facility but also to ensure with Covid-19 risk assessments etc, we are all going to have to think outside the box in terms of socially distanced and keeping people safe but also keeping them warm so outside areas of attractive.”
Maximise the opportunity
The New World Trading Company senior operators manager Adam Wilde heads up the multiple operator’s ‘winterisation’ project.
He outlined what the company is doing when it comes to the colder weather and how existing plans have been adapted.
Wilde said: “With winterisation, outdoor areas through the sites I run, there are huge outdoor areas that have been performing really well during summer.
“Now the cold has set in, we are trying to maximise the opportunity, the Oast House in Manchester, for years now we have been putting a tipi on there and we will continue to do that this year.
“We had to get temporary planning permission for that, if you have the structure up for more than three months. We learnt after the first year when we didn’t do it to get that sorted pretty quickly.
“At the Club House in Liverpool, we have got huts going in. Painted, glamorised inside, put heaters in, and karaoke machines so we charge a deposit for the machines. Guests can go in, up to six people, sing their heart away and enjoy that space.”
Using the closure of city markets could prove to be beneficial for pub and bar operators, Wilde explained.
He said: “In Manchester, people are here for the markets, so they are used to being outside. If it isn’t pouring down with rain, people re happy to be outside so if you’ve got a good offering on an outside bar, mulled wine, hit cider, the yare going to gravitate towards that.
“With no Christmas markets happening in most major cities this year, we have probably got an opportunity there.
“People wanting that feeling of going out with their friends and close family, obviously they can’t do it at the markets, but if they can get a bratwurst at the Oast House then brilliant.
“December in Manchester was people coming in on the trains early doors and leaving before their last train at 10pm or 11pm so we did see those late sales drop off in the major cities because people are commuting in. Hopefully that will work in our favour, especially if they can get that market-like experience.
Poppleston Allen’s Taylor highlighted her advice to operators on how best to weather the storm this winter.
She added: “Look at the area you have got and be creative. Now is the time to be creative, look at the space you’ve got, perhaps take some legal advice or speak to your local licensing or highways officer just to check what you’re planning to do is feasible.
“The fast track application is there. It’s cheaper than a Highways Act application is most cases. There’s a capped fee of £100. It’s all there to help operators.
“Be creative, be brave and as long as everybody is safe and socially distanced etc no is the time for us to do something a bit different.
“Let’s hope we aren’t going to have a winter again where we have got to think about these things. We have got to maximise it to try and save the trade.”